The Great Gardening Project of 2013

The Great Gardening Project of 2013
As part of our never ending quest to find meaning during our school day, we have undertaken a monumental gardening project. Not just gardening – refurbishing, retooling, and hopefully bringing new life to some very old and very run down raised beds. How run down? There were trees growing in the beds. Yes, actual trees. I am not sure how long it would take for a tree to take root in a raised bed, but these were about six feet tall, so I’m guessing they were growing for a while.

I know nothing of the anatomy of a raised garden bed. We discovered that the rotting wood on ours was covering up some pretty sturdy railroad ties. So, we will keep the ties and put new wood around the outside to make them look pretty. Here is our task list for the month of April, 2013:

1. Measure the wood to determine how much we need to buy.

Olkens Measuring

We were lucky to have some help on this one. My friend Keja was visiting us and carpentry is one of her many talents. After a quick lesson on measurement, we got to work with tape measure and pencil. Keja also taught us about the different types of wood available to our project, about the dimensions that boards and plywood come in, and about the finer points of using a tape measure.

The boys had to answer a few questions before we went to the store

  • How many boards do we need for the top?
    • 12
  • How many boards do we need for the sides?
    • 12
  • What are the dimensions of each board?
    • 7 of 1 x 10 x 8
    • 4 of 1 x 10 x 10
    • 1 of 1 x 10 x 12
    • plywood – 3/8 x 18in x 8
  • Is there anything else we need to know before we buy the materials?
    • The plywood comes in 4 x 8 pieces. How are we going to cut the plywood?

2. Pull all of the old plants out of the bed and turn the soil over.

On our first few days in the garden, we are working to remove the old plants and turn the soil over.
On our first few days in the garden, we are working to remove the old plants and turn the soil over.

Considering what was growing in the beds, this was a HUGE undertaking. One of the boys is reading Holes, so digging in our garden got us talking about Camp Green Lake and just how hard it would be to dig those holes.

3. Buy the wood.

We got as far as buying the wood in April. Our plans are to paint it for Mother’s day. Again, we were lucky to have my friend Keja along on our trip to the store. She told us that Lowes would cut the plywood for us, saving us from having to borrow someone’s table saw.

Cutting the Wood at Lowes

after the wood is cut

Putting It in the  Car





Project cost so far: $250.61


Our Task List for May:

1. Figure out just how much paint we will need.

multiplication tables

First, we looked up our paint at We figured out that each gallon of paint would cover about 400 square feet. The next question we had to ask was “How do we measure a square foot on these 9″ boards?” Here’s how we figured it out:


  • The boys took some scrap board and created a 9×9 grid.
  • They filled in the grid with their times tables. This was easier for the older boys, who had already learned their times tables. Harrison worked off the idea that multiplication is just shorthand for addition. It took him a little bit longer, but he put a lot of effort into filling in his grid.
  • We talked about the relationship between exponents, multiplication and addition. In their 9×9 grid, the boys looked at 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, etc and we talked about how each of these was a square.
  • The boys concluded that if a square foot was 12in x 12in, then we would have to find a number that they could multiply by 9 to get the same result. 12×12=9×16, so all they had to do was to buy 1 square foot of paint for every 16 inches of the board. I would have measured all of the boards and then divided that number by 16, but the boys used the knowledge they had from our guest carpenter and used the 16″ marks on the tape measure to tally up the number of square feet. I was really impressed with their creative solution.






I will add updates as we go. As with any large, experiential learning project, we will learn as much from our failures as our successes. I hope to document all of those in this blog. I also hope that my adventures in gardening ineptitude inspire you to step outside your comfort zone and teach your students or kids something new – you don’t have to be an expert in order to facilitate learning!


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